Hidden love when the world is at war

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An archive of previously unseen letters detailing the ‘secret’ gay world of London during World War Two is forming the basis of a stage play, ‘Here at Last is Love.’ 

It’s being premiered later this month at The Stables Theatre in Hastings and has been described as ‘funny, touching and surprising’ by best-selling author David Charles Manners. 

Simon Callow says it’s ‘delicious – funny and touching and very skilfully fashioned – the mixture of music and verse and dialogue and general outrageousness.’  

Here at Last is Love’ is set in The Pink Sink, the bar beneath the Ritz Hotel, which acted as the backdrop for the true story of secret romance and subterfuge at the height of the London Blitz.  

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The play centres around the remarkable life of a woman known as ‘Sodomy Johnson.’ She ensured The Pink Sink provided refuge, comfort and kindness to some of the most significant and glittering figures of wartime gay life.  

The events portrayed on stage are based on a private archive of courageous, passionate letters written between the writers, actors, army officers and MI5 agents who regularly met there.  

These included playwright Terence Rattigan and the screenwriter Paul Dehn, whose work on 007 films earned him the accolade of being ‘the gay godfather of James Bond.’

The title of the play could well be a homage to American poet Dunstan Thompson. He was one of the bar’s patrons. His published work included poetry under the title: Here at Last is Love

Gay lifestyles during the war years were often kept secret as the legalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales didn’t happen until 1967. A catalyst for legal change came-a-bout following Michael Pitt-Rivers’ trial during the 1950s.

He was a regular at The Pink Sink and his conviction for following a gay lifestyle partly led to the commission of the law changing Wolfenden Report.  

All their letters starkly expose the social pressure gay men were kept under in order to keep their sexuality hidden. 

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The correspondence also reveals the full, joyful lives and loves they pursued in private which supported them through the horrors of active service.

The play includes some of the greatest songs of the era, together with unpublished work by Terence Rattigan which was discovered in 2021 among the Manners’ family papers. The songs have not been heard in public for 89 years.  

Here at Last is Love’ is ‘a story so ripe for the telling, a story of kindness and humanity.  It needs to be told,’ writes Dame Harriet Walter, whose screen roles have included Sense and Sensibility, Atonement, and, more recently, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Jason Morell directs an exciting cast which includes renowned operatic mezzo Louise Winter in the role of Sodomy Johnson.  

‘Here at Last is Love’ follows Manners’ success with ‘Picture Perfect’ which was performed by the Olivier Award-winning Liza Sadovy at The Stables Theatre, Hastings. 

The play will run for five performances, from the 25th to 28th of May. Tickets are available through The Stables Theatre website or by calling the Box Office on 01424-423221.

Photographs kindly supplied by The Stables Theatre, Hastings.

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